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July 26, 2005 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Online Poker: How do people play differently when you move from play to real money? And what e-wallet solution do you recommend?

I'm about to start playing poker for real money. I've been playing for play money for a while, and consistently make a "profit." However, after watching real money games, I'm convinced that playing for real money has a real psychological effect -- is it just me or do players fold more often and bluff less? (How can a bluff possibly be effective when playing limit games?)

Also, my CC provider will not accept transactions from gaming sites, how do I get money over there? What are the best/safest services?
posted by The Baby Jesus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
Please don't read this as an insult, but if you don't understand why people fold many more hands and bluff less often when playing with real money, you should not be playing with real money. If you look at just the hard stats, most hands aren't worth paying the blind for. I recommend you read a few books first. Read The Theory of Poker thoroughly and The Super System skeptically. These should give you an idea of basic strategy and theory.

For payment options I recommend Neteller.

Also, remember what they say in Rounders: If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, you are the sucker.
posted by cyphill at 6:00 PM on July 26, 2005

From my limited experience playing poker for play money, you can win big easily because sometimes people are just fooling around. I wouldnt play for real -real- money unless i considered myself a seasoned veteran
posted by who else at 6:16 PM on July 26, 2005

i concur with cyphill. you have a lot to learn. my dog could win in play money games because everybody plays EVERY hand. in the real money games you should be tossing a great majority of your hands. playing a winning game is actually pretty boring. i don't have the discipline to do it, and i can make more money at my day job. you should expect to win one big hand an hour, and other than that, a lot of folding.

my friend plays for big money ($15/$30 tables) and has four tables open at once on his screen and plays four hands at once. he still gets bored because he folds so much. he said it's at the point where playing is mechanical and he doesn't even have to think about it.

he's also done a massive amount of research and practice before getting to this level. cyphill is right about Theory of Poker and i'd also recommend Texas Hold Em for Advanced Players, which is my sklansky (author of theory of poker) and malmuth.

if you still think you want to play, study the hell out of those books, and start small. like the 25c/50c table. somewhere where you can afford to lose and stick with it for a long time. at least a month, preferably two. then move up to 50c/$1. and take another month. the dynamics change at each level of play. the very low stakes tables play a lot like free play.

also, don't put it behind the online casinos for one second that two or three of the people sitting at each free play table are just robots trained to play a shitty game to build up people's ego to get them into the pay games. these casinos are not subject to any laws and regulation. the bigger ones like party poker are obviously on the straight and narrow on their real play because they have more to lose, but i wouldn't put it past them to mess with the free play to encourage people to bump up.

and lastly, poker is not a hard game to learn to play with a winning strategy. having the emotional discipline to stick with a steady strategy despite incredible swings in your stack and the cards your dealt is beyond a great majority of the population. personally, i can't do it, so i don't play online. i know a lot about the game, but maintaining that discipline is beyond me. of course, nobody believes that this applies to them, but then they're down $500 and it starts to make a little sense.
posted by AaRdVarK at 6:32 PM on July 26, 2005

I only play live poker, but I figure this situation is similar to moving from playing friendly home games to playing poker in the my advice is: you need to start playing beyond your own hand. You need to make decisions based not only on what you have, but what the other players are likely to have. This sounds incredibly obvious, but I think it's the downfall to most newbie players. Never make a move without forming an opinion as to what the other players may have.
posted by mullacc at 6:49 PM on July 26, 2005

Netteller is the way to go. Make sure you verify your bank account or it costs money. Firepay is OK but they charge more (and I don't think it's ever free, netteller is when your account is verified).

Get as much bonus money as you can. Most big poker sites offer it. Ultimatebet, where I play, offers a 50% bonus to the new person, and a 100% bonus to the referrer. You don't get this money right away, instead, you earn points as you play and points get converted into cash. at 5/10 cent tables you'll make more in bonus money than you will in real money. At 25/50 it depends but often you can clear as much in bonus money as in real money. Above that and the bonus money is just a bonus. But, it lets you play worse without losing a lot of money. Which is important when you're losing. After my first two months I was "up" a little but really I was down about $50 if you didn't consider bonus money. PartyPoker and many other sites have a different take on bonuses, so it plays different. They offer a BIG chunk of bonus but you have to play a large number of raked hands to get it. You can make real money doing this though -- a friend of mine makes a tiny bit per hour playing limit holdem but made $1000 this year in bonuses.

Bluffing in limit holdem is profitable but somewhat rare. Bluffing overall is a LOT rarer in poker than most new players believe. Most of the game is manuevering and information gathering, trying to fathom if you have the best hand. Most good players "semi bluff" which is representing a better hand than they have, but they don't actually have "nothing", just a mediocre hand with options to improve (say, a pair of 8s with a straight or flush draw). The key to limit holdem is that although you risk less money per bet, you bet more often, and you need to make correct decisions every time. You have to play smart on every bet because you will not have the opportunity to go all in on the river and push out someone with a hand that's a little better than yours. Betting can get pretty high in limit also, there are 2 rounds of small bets and 2 rounds of big ones, with a total possibility of 12 big bets per person (at a 25/50 cent table, you could lose $6 in a hand. Doesn't sound like too much but lose one of those a session and you'll be broke in short order)

Read up. I recommend Sklansky's Low Limit Holdem book, since it talks about how to beat low limit players. I have a book on internet holdem that is OK but not great, by, erm, David Hilger or something.
Read a little, play a little, read a little. Invest in some software to track your progress (poker office or poker tracker) since most sites won't even show you a graph of the amount of money you've made or lost over time. I developed my own poker tracking software and it's paid off for me, it helps me analyze my play (and the play of others). These days I rarely sit down at a table without watching 2 times around to see who bets a lot (seeing more than a certain % of flops generally means a loose (bad) player)), who raises a lot (loose aggressive players are hard to beat in the short term, easier in the long term), who calls anything (passive players are hard to put on a hand, they might have anything from a weak pair to a straight and they only call).

People play so bad at free tables that it's not even funny. I tested a strategy once of ONLY playing top hands (folding about 80-85% of all hands dealt to me) but after accepting and playing a hand, ONLY raising it. I went from 1000 to 10,000 in a few days, just an hour a day. Meaningless. You will see people at no limit tables with 1,000,000 chips. They went all in, busted out, all in busted out, all in, won, etc until they managed to rack up, say, 6 or 7 all ins in a row, giving them a crapload of chips.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:56 PM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: Re: bots. I hadn't considered their existence, assuming they would be banned, but it totally makes some odd players I've seen make sense now.

And, lest you fear, I'm talking small amounts of money. I'm not looking to make it a vocation, just a hobby to tune up the real-world play.

Sorry if I gave the wrong impression -- I'm not a total noob -- of course I fully expected people to play tighter for real money. People play for play money absolutely rediculously, I just wanted to make sure that they didn't play for money the same way.

Having confirmed that, it also confirms that playing for fake money isn't the best way to tune those skills.
posted by The Baby Jesus at 6:59 PM on July 26, 2005

Winning Low Limit Texas Hold 'Em by Lee Jones is highly recommended for situations like this.

Many of the poker books cover playing against people who actually have a bit of sense about what they are doing and pay attention. This book is designed for the places most people play - low limits where people play quite badly.
posted by aaronh at 8:58 PM on July 26, 2005

Neteller is by far the best option for cash. Every poker room on the net accepts it. It'll take a few days to get a checking account hooked into them but afterwards you can ACH your winnings into it easily. (If you have losses, it takes a few days for another deposit to clear unless you pay a compuslive gambler's fee) They also accept credit cards, but there's a fee on that.

Regarding skill... it's pretty linear, the higher you go, the tougher the games get. There are still maniacs, calling stations and gamblers in bigger games, but for the most part, the higher the stakes, the smaller the mistakes.

If you can't beat the 0.5/1 game, the problem is not that they're too loose and lucky (though they will all be atrocious players at that level, and sometimes will be lucky), it's that your game needs work. If you want to get better, I'd strongly suggest you get some books:

Winning Low Limit Holdem by Lee Jones

NLHE players:
Harrington on Holdem Volume 1: talks about beginning of tournament strategy, but the advice also applies reasonably to smaller no-limit cash games.
Harrington on Holdem Volume 2: only applies to the ends of tournaments.
Super/System 2: the NLHE chapter in this is good, but if applied against the wrong opponents will devastate your wallet. It's worth reading, but Harrington V1 is a safer beginner's text.

LHE players:
Small Stakes Holdem for Advanced Players by Ed Miller: this is to take you from slight winner to big winner in loose limit holdem games.

Stud players:
Super/System: Mike Caro's 7 card stud chapter is a fantastic intro to the game.
7 card stud for Advanced Players: this is definitely a more thorough text than the super/system chapter, but it's not by any means a beginner's guide.

For any serious player:
Theory Of Poker: this is basically the encyclopedia of poker. It defines all of the concepts that a thinking player needs to understand, and the terms that are commonly used to talk about them.

Personally, I think there's a lot of value in learning limit holdem before learning no-limit and pot-limit. Beating limit holdem at any non-trivial level requires good post-flop skills. However, it's possible to play low-limit no-limit games ($100 and under) with almost no understanding of post-flop play, but that lack of understanding will keep you from ever moving up.

I got into real money online poker a few fears ago for reasons similar to yours... I was a casino and home game player, playing online play money socially, and it was just too easy to be fun.
posted by mosch at 8:59 PM on July 26, 2005

About the only games that online play money games prepare you for are the penny limit games. UltimateBet has no-limit games with .01 - .02 blinds. They play is as wild (iow stupid) as the play money games. If you keep your head, you can make $4 or $5 an hour.
posted by mischief at 9:51 PM on July 26, 2005

If you want to get a feel for what it's like playing for real money without playing for real real money, I recommend playing a few low buy-in tournaments. For $1 you get to play a ton of hands against people of varying skill levels all of whom want to win.
posted by Capn at 8:13 AM on July 27, 2005

Anybody who tells you not to play isn't a real poker player (we love new money). :) The only way you'll learn is to play against other people for real money, or spend good money on a GOOD poker trainer (Wilson Software's applications come to mind immediately).

I use Firepay more than Netteller (had a slow payout from netteller that soured me to their service, though that might've been a unique experience). Start at Empire Poker / Party Poker (they're actually the same site, just different "skins"), there are a lot of other newbies there. When you're making a consistent profit, move on to Full Tilt (slightly better caliber of player, on average) and then to Paradise Poker (even stronger players here, excellent selection of multi-table tournaments).

Bluffing in limit is useless unless you're head's up, since multiple players make it (usually) mathematically correct to call a single bet when chasing a straight or a flush.
posted by Merdryn at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Bluffing in limit isn't really that uncommon, but it comes in a few common forms from good players. (And a lot more from aggressive or overly-optimistic bad players)

1) semi-bluffing to win the pot: your hand is unable to win as it stands, but a fold is likely if you bet or raise, and if you get called, you have a draw to win the pot anyway. The combination of these factors makes the semi-bluff profitable.

2) semi-bluffing for a free card: you have a draw and you are definitely going to stay in until the river. You are not going to be able to win the pot with a bet or raise, however you may be able to make a small bet now to over-represent your hand, and get your opponents to check to you on the next street (where the bets are larger). If you make your draw there, you bet, if you don't, you check and get to see the next card cheaper than if you had played your hand more directly.

3) bluffing on the end: Many times you'll get to the river while on a draw, and you won't have made it. However, if your opponent may have also been looking for their hand to improve, the pot will be big enough that it's worth one last bet if they're unlikely to call without an improved hand.

4) bluffing to steal the blinds: If it's folded to you in late position, or the small blind, it's very common to raise to try to steal the blinds. Despite being a well-known move, it still shows a profit. Let's say you're playing 15/30 and are in the small blind. Everyone folds. You have three choices:
1) Fold, and always lose $10.
2) Call $5 more and see a flop.
3) Raise to $30.

Raising here is correct against many opponents because for $20 more, you have a chance to win $25. If your opponent only calls or raises 50% of the time, you're already showing an automatic profit. Add in the fact that sometimes when he plays with you, you'll win anyway, and it becomes even more obvious that against a tight opponent you can make this play with any two cards.

5) Bluffing because you sense weakness: This is especially common in pot-limit and no-limit games, but is present in limit games too. If you sense that your opponent isn't particularly happy about his holdings (through a combination of how the hand played, and physical tells) you might raise with anything simply because you know they don't want to keep putting money in the pot.

This is extremely dangerous to do when you're a novice... If a good player sees that you're willing to make this move, they may attempt to induce a bluff from you... If you do it against a bad player, they may call anyway even though they're not happy about it.

I could go on, but I've rambled more than enough for one thread.
posted by mosch at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2005

A couple other notes:
1) tournament strategy is sufficiently different from cash game strategy that playing them really just prepares you for playing in more tournaments.

2) All small buy-in games are absurdly soft, whether they're cash games or tournaments. The fact is that nobody cares very deeply about five dollars. This will show in their play.

3) The goal is to win money. Don't find the hardest 1/2 game you can because you want to get better... instead find the easiest 2/4 or 3/6 game once you're crushing the easy 1/2 game. You'll get the same experience, but win more money.

4) If you like tournaments, try playing at a few different sites. Tournaments are structured differently at different sites (blind increases, starting stack size, etc) and you may find that your natural tendancies are more compatible with one format than another (or one player type rather than another)

5) Don't forget that you're gambling. You won't always win, but as Truman Copote said "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour."
posted by mosch at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2005

I once heard a very prominent poker player say on telelvision that learning to play poker with play money only teaches you how to play VERY bad poker.

I play on PartyPoker for two reasons. The first is excellent tournaments, including 2 or 3 daily $5000 freeroll tournaments where the buy-in is $0 as long as you have at least $1 real money in your account. It pays from 1st ($1000 payout) to 50th ($50.00 payout). I play in the 5:00 PM everyday and have placed several times. If you do go with PartyPoker, try to remember to not sit down at a table with all your money. Leave at least a $1 in your account so even if you bust out you can continue to play the freeroll until you deposit more.

The second reason I play on PartyPoker is because I can use IGM Pay which works exactly like a check and costs absolutely nothing to deposit. I don't want to have to deposit money into my bank account, then deposit it in FirePay or Netteller, and then deposit it into a poker site. You want me to do all that and then you're going to charge me a percentage? No thank you.

That being said, PartyPoker definitely has its downfalls, the most common being tons of people who have no idea what they're doing. Sounds like a good thing, but you get lots of people sucking out on hands they had no business being in. The majority of them have no idea it's not a good move to call a $4 bet in a $.50 game with a gutshot draw on the turn. But they do, and they hit it, and your trips queens are no good and they say "well, all I needed was an 8 to make the straight." Of course it works both ways and you'll love the people that play a pair of Aces like crazy with 4 diamonds on the board.

Good luck no matter where you play.
posted by Ugh at 1:18 PM on July 27, 2005

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